For me, like many people, watching and playing sports is an escape from the issues of everyday life. The world of sport is a fantasyland where grown men are paid millions of dollars to play a game, and millions upon millions of people watch and escape. A sports team can be the common thread that starts a friendship, or the loose one that tears a family apart (if my brother ever went to Ohio State, we would no longer be on speaking terms). Yes, people take sports very seriously, and worship the players on their favorite teams. However, two recent acquisitions by my favorite Detroit sports teams have made it harder to revere them as much as I once did.
Todd Bertuzzi is one of those players you love to hate. A forward with a deft scoring touch and a legendary mean streak, Bertuzzi was a part of one of the most shameful incidents in hockey history as a member of the Vancouver Canucks in 2004. In a regular season game against the Colorado Avalance, Bertuzzi attacked Avs forward Steve Moore from behind in retaliation for an earlier hit by Moore on the Canucks Markus Naslund. Bertuzzi punched Moore in the side of the head and then slammed him to the ice, fracturing three vertebrae in Moore's neck and giving him a severe concussion. Moore has not been able to return to the NHL since the incident, while Bertuzzi was suspended the rest of the season and was allowed to return to play after the lockout.
Needless to say, I am not the biggest Bertizzi fan in the world. I love the game of hockey, including the way the players police themselves. Fighting is an integral (not to mention entertaining) part of the game, but Bertuzzi took it way too far. So when I saw that my beloved Red Wings had acquired Bertuzzi for a prospect and a couple of draft picks at the deadline this year, I was less than pleased. On one hand, we need a power forward; someone who can score and also grind on the forecheck and throw his weight around. In this respect, Bertuzzi was a great pickup; the perfect player to acquire heading into the playoffs. On the other hand, I had to actually root for this guy now. What was I going to do when he put the puck in the net for favorite team, and I had to either cheer for him or stew angrily as I watched my favorite players celebrate with the NHL's version of Kermit Washington?
Gary Sheffield may have baseball's most violent swing. He doesn't just hit the ball...he pulverizes it. When the Tigers played the Yankees in last years American League Division Series, I sat frozen in terror every time Sheff stepped to the plate knowing the next pitch could very well be the one that shot off his bat and went head-hunting in the left field bleachers. My fear also mixed with dislike, as Sheffield has been implicated in the BALCO steroids scandal that rocked the baseball world a few years ago. So it figures, then, that the Tigers traded for Sheffield this summer, counting on him to be the final piece in a World Series championship puzzle. How was I going to feel when Sheffield ripped that first inhumanly strong line drive over the fence?
I cheered when Bertuzzi netted his first goal as a Red Wing. When Sheffield hit a 2 out shot to left field off Kansas City's Gil Meche Saturday afternoon, I pumped my fist. Ultimately, my undying love for the Wings and the Tigers surpassed my distaste for these two players. Like they say, there's no 'I' in 'team'. Now they represent the Winged Wheel and the Olde English D, and I hope they deliver a Stanley Cup and a World Series title. But it's difficult to ignore the twinge of guilt that lurks in the back of my mind and surfaces with each Bertuzzi point or Sheffield homer, and I wish it didn't have to be that way.